UNITY — Three-year-old Richard Pillsbury thinks everyone has a Hobbit Hole.

For about 2½ years, his father, Rocy Pillsbury, has custom designed and built the whimsical wooden wonders, and the family’s yard has a number of the domes in various stages of completion.

“He sees them as a normal part of life,” Rocy said of his son, who dressed as the movie and book character hobbit Frodo Baggins for Halloween.

When Pillsbury started Wooden Wonders, his initial plan was to build playhouses in the shape of castles, towers, and fairy and mushroom houses.

His wife, Melissa White Pillsbury, said that adults at home shows would stare at the playhouses, trying to come up with a reason to buy them.

“We started with playhouses, and we expanded from there to utility uses,” she said. “We quickly discovered that folks with disposable income aren’t necessarily the ones with young children.”

The Hobbit Hole design, with its characteristic dome shape and large, round front door, has caught the attention of humans far removed from Middle-earth.

“No two are alike,” said Rocy Pillsbury, 37, who has designed and built about 50 variations of the hobbit holes described in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel “The Hobbit, or There and Back Again,” published in 1937.

A Hobbit Hole, he said, can be used as a bus stop shelter, chicken coop, doghouse, playhouse, office, garden shed, sandbox, yoga space, vegetable stand, sauna, summer sleepover spot and lakeside cottage.

One customer, he said, bought a Hobbit Hole to conduct child therapy sessions.

Some have living roofs covered with vegetation; others are shingled.

The structures can be placed about anywhere, from gardens to shires to hillsides.

HOME HEATING FUNDRAISER

Or on the lawn outside author Stephen King’s radio stations, WKIT FM 100.3 and WZON AM 620/FM 103.1, on Broadway in Bangor.

Pat LaMarche, co-host of “The Pulse Morning Show” on WZON, will live in a Hobbit Hole starting Monday. LaMarche will stay there until $70,000 is pledged by community members for Help Keep ME Warm, a home heating fuel assistance fundraiser for low-income Mainers.

At 6 a.m. Monday, LaMarche and co-host Don Cookson will broadcast their show from a second Hobbit Hole on site.

Wooden Wonders is giving 10 percent of its sales made during the fundraiser to Help Keep ME Warm, said Melissa Pillsbury.

She had contacted WKIT to inquire about advertising prices and promotions and soon after, a deal was struck to use Hobbit Holes for the fuel assistance fundraiser.

LaMarche should be able to live in relative comfort. The Hobbit Hole has a shingled roof, wooden floors, a dormer and windows.

Wooden Wonders has a trademark license agreement with Middle-earth Enterprises, which owns exclusive worldwide rights to motion picture, merchandising and other rights from Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.”

“I think that we are the only company in the world that sells Hobbit Holes. They are great people to work with,” Rocy Pillsbury said of the Berkeley, Calif., company.

Pillsbury started Wooden Wonders so he could undertake creative carpentry endeavors and work at home. He said he learned the trade on the job. He worked about 17 years in conventional construction.

Pillsbury said he’s comfortable building insulated cottage-size Hobbit Holes wired for electricity. “A person could potentially live in one year-round,” he said.

The structures’ cost ranges from about $999 – for a chicken coop with hinged front and rear windows, a vent and rear access door to nest boxes – to $20,000 for an insulated 16-foot diameter, 8-foot 2-inch-high cottage with finished floors and windows and screens.

Pillsbury said he’s trying to lower the cost of an entry-level playhouse to $2,000. That’s been a challenge, he said, because he is determined to maintain the quality of the structures.

“Anyone who knows about carpentry knows how much work goes into them,” Melissa Pillsbury said. “Aesthetically they’re so wonderful. We’ve got a Hobbit Hole for every budget.”

HELP FROM HOLLYWOOD

Melissa Pillsbury handles marketing for the business and updates the Wooden Wonders website and Facebook page.

The Warner Bros. Pictures’ expected December 2012 release of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” could further bolster the popularity of Hobbit Holes, she said.

Which might make the couple’s already busy life even more hectic.

Melissa Pillsbury is also the full-time organic marketing coordinator for Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association in Unity. And Jan. 27, the couple welcomed their second son, Maxximus.

“We’d like to be a successful small family business and provide a few jobs and do something that’s manageable and sustainable. And we’d like to be able to take a vacation,” Melissa Pillsbury said with a laugh.

One day a couple of weeks ago, Rocy Pillsbury drove to Freeport to meet a potential client, and the next day he hauled two Hobbit Holes to Bangor so LaMarche could choose the one in which she wanted to live during the fundraiser.

“I still work 70 hours a week, minimum,” he said. “But I’m home most of the time, and I see my boys in the mornings. My oldest helps me. I am the master of my destiny.”

 

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Beth Staples can be contacted at 861-9252 or at: [email protected]